April 29, 2017

Awesome Odisha!

I got an opportunity to go to Cuttack, Odisha, to make two presentations at the National Law University of Odisha - one on new media and one on magazine design. First impressions - Bhubaneshwar, where I landed, was very green! Lots of varieties of trees - Kadambas, thick set Ashokas, crape myrtles, laburnums in bloom, tree hibiscus, banyans and peepals, cashew plantations near Konark, and many more. Most of the trees looked old and huge. 'Development' as we know it in the metros has not yet touched these parts, so it looks like the Hyderabad or Warangal of the 1970s or early 1980s. But now Bhubaneshwar has been declared as a smart city, and this makes me afraid for the flora and fauna of the city.

Cuttack is long piece of land between two rivers - Kathajodi and Mahanadi. While Kathajodi was quite dry, Mahanadi had a lot of water. We were waking up to a variety of bird calls - it was such a pleasure! I spotted some birds I had never seen before.

Two days of travelling around Odisha made Ragini and me camera-happy. Let the photos speak for themselves.   

First time I was seeing camels on a beach! There were hundreds of people on the beach, and getting this shot was not easy. I am rather pleased with it :)

It was lovely to see this grandfather playing with involvement with his grandchildren. He was quite old but played with them like a child!

Romancing on the beach! I found the bulls in Odisha different from the ones here. The hump is bigger and makes them look more like the Nandi we find in temples. 

This is the best shot I could get of the Puri temple. The architecture of the temples is incredible, but photography is not allowed. I am happy I went, but one advice about the Puri temple: don't go unless you get some help from someone. 

I can't travel and not write about trees! On the way to Konark - a cashew nut plantation.


Konark was awe-inspiring and left us breathless! 

There are 12 pairs of intricately carved wheels.

The huge chariot is visible from this view. Some maintenance and polishing work is going on.


We were on our way to Raghurajpur, and stopped to ask this beautiful tribal woman for directions.

Raghurajpur is an artists' village and contains a cluster of houses where they paint patachitra, palm leaf paintings and make many other crafts.

This cheerful artisan and his father paint patachitras. Very fine and intricate work, like the carving on Odisha's temples.

Just look at these masks and paintings!

There are these rasagolla and other sweet shacks between Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack..
I thought they were found all over Odisha, but apparently it is typical to this region.


We went for a heritage walk called Ekamra Walks, which started at the 9th Century Mukteshwar Temple, with a bansuri recital. The early morning ambience was perfect, and transformed us to another era.

Again, amazingly intricate carvings.

During the walk, chanced upon these two purohits, deeply absorbed in their newspapers.

Several small houses have such paintings on them, with a bride and groom's names written on them.
They are apparently painted when a wedding happens, and is a kind of an invite to everyone!
Since they don't have too much money, the paintings and the wedding info remains
till the next wedding in the family! 

The 11th century Lingaraj temple complex is beautiful, and represents the Kalinga architecture.
The guide told us that there were 107.5 lingas at this temple. 0.5 because it was incomplete. 

A photo I like very much! A vendor arranges her vegetables under the Lingaraj temple chariot. 
Near the Dhauli Buddhist stupa are the rock edicts of Ashoka. The language is Magadhi Prakrita and the script is early Brahmi. The edicts speak about the virtues of Dharma.  

Another piece of history! Freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's birth place in Cuttack. It is very well maintained and has photographs, letters and objects used in this house.
One can even see the room in which he was born on 23 January 1897. It's the kind of thing that gives me goose bumps!


All photos: Copyright Sadhana Ramchander
Giving credit for use of photos would be appreciated

April 08, 2017

An apology to Africans

We have had a professional connect with Africa for a long time. While at ICRISAT during the eighties, we met and were friends with several scientists from Africa. One of them - Dr Kanayo Nwanze - moved to Ivory Coast after several years in Hyderabad, and gave our consultancy its first turnkey assignment, which set the ball rolling, and we will be forever grateful to him for this. We have worked and continue to work on a day-to-day basis with professionals from West and East Africa. They are honest people, dignified and committed. We consider it our good fortune to have had an opportunity to work with them. 

Africa, by the way, is not one country as many people seem to assume - it is a huge continent with 54 countries. It is the second most multi-lingual continent in the world, and their art and craft are second to none. 

I went to Africa once - to Maputo in Mozambique and Nairobi in Kenya - and was taken care of and kept safe by good, simple people in both these places. It was a wish come true when I met the accomplished Prof Monty Jones - the Sierra Leonean scientist who was responsible for a very successful hybrid variety of rice called NERICA, combining the good qualities of African rice and Asian rice. There are many more enterprising women and men I have worked with virtually, and have never met. 

However, this is not about my travels or about the people I met or worked with. It is just to state my admiration for Africans, based on my association with them. They are a gracious people, immensely talented, have a unique character and have the same kind of tehzeeb that we in Hyderabad are proud of. Treating them with disrespect or worse, attacking them because of their skin colour or wrong assumptions based on one's own ignorance is such a tragedy. 

I am not a VIP, nor am I an official in the Indian government. I am an ordinary citizen of India, and I feel compelled to write this apology for the attacks on African students in Noida. I condemn these attacks and am ashamed they happened. I offer my profound apology to the Africans to whom this treatment has been meted out. Please know that there are many of us who consider you our brothers and sisters, who respect you, and warmly welcome you to our country. Please have a safe and comfortable rest of your stay in India.  

April 02, 2017

The doggy quagmire

There's one thing even my closest friends (from my adult life) don't know about me, and that is that I am a hopeless dog lover. I come from a family where everyone, grandmother downwards, loved dogs and had their own theories about them. When I was 3 years old...we had a handsome, furry cross breed. Everyone in the house adored her and even played Holi with her, dousing her with colourful love! After this dog died, we had a Dachschund cross - Sheba - given by my aunt's friend in whose house there had been a litter. Sheba grew up and gave us eight puppies one stormy night, and pretty much like the 101 Dalmatians story, one of them almost died, washed away as it had in the open drain. Oh no, we only have seven puppies, we thought sadly. We found the pup in the garden in the morning, with a couple of black ants holding on to its skin. It was shivering and barely alive. We removed the ants with a forceps and covered it with a blanket and revived it, yes, pretty much like in the movie. And then there were eight puppies once again!

There were others - Shwetha, a Pomeranian given by a friend; the Labrador Blacky, who wasn't happy in my maternal grandmother's house, and so we brought him home. Something told me he would run away, and he did...but not before I wrote our address behind its collar. Sure enough, someone found him and called us. We went and brought him back. Blacky was big brother to Swetha and then became her puppies' uncle, and let them climb all over him! It was really cute watching them...

As an adult, I've never had dogs. One, I live in a flat, and two, Vijay has always said with finality, 'Either a dog or me'. So far, it's been him! :)

The children did ask for a pet on and off, but for the general peace of the household, and the fact that dogs needed space, the 'I-want-a-dog' demands were, sadly, discouraged. To prove her need for a pet, 6-year old Malini even had a pet ant in a box! The box was soon antless and that made her sad. When she was little, someone once gifted Ragini a small bowl with three fish. I don't like fish in a bowl or birds in a cage. So the fish soon swam free in the murky waters of Indira Park.


Now is a great time to keep a dog, I think on and off. Once in a while, when I forget Vijay's 'dog or me' statement, or when we have a fight, I am very tempted to get a dog. Those cute puppies videos on FB are difficult to ignore. A friend posts photos of her dog, another narrates a heart warming incident, yet another posts a slow motion video of his dog running towards the camera...aaah! difficult to smother the temptation; it is sheer torture. I too want a dog!

So once in a while, to please myself, I visualise the whole scenario of my getting a dog. "What breed should I get?" I ask myself. "I always wanted a Golden Retriever!" Excitement! I imagine a cute puppy in my house, me playing with it, training it, taking it for a walk. My children coming home and making friends with it and loving it...my heart overflows with joy at the thought.

And then the voices of my conscientious street-dog-supporting friends criticise and scoff me for thinking of getting a dog of a certain breed and not picking up one from the street. Oh, no...what will they think of me? I ask myself horrified. I open the newspaper. "Adopt a pet" columns come every week, offering dogs and cats. They don't look very cute to me because I want a Golden Retriever. They make me feel that I am a cruel person to want one, and that makes me feel worse. Then someone posts about traumatised Beagles rescued from scientific experiments, and they're up for adoption too, and I have to pass an eligibility test to get them. I am sure I will fail that test because all I really want is a Golden Retriever. But then, I look at the photos of the science dogs and my heart melts, and I begin to feel very noble...this is not for long, and I feel like a terrible, cruel, very bad person for not wanting to adopt a handicapped or a street dog.

Ah, life has become very complicated since the time I had dogs. Nothing is simple any more, neither the choice of a dog nor the way one looks after it. One friend tells me they cancelled their holiday because the temporary home where they left their dog was full up because they did not book in advance. And when I heard of what it costed to leave your dog there, my head reeled in shock. Back then, there was always someone at home to take care of the dogs while you were away.

I snap out of the reverie, and ask just for the sake of asking - "Hey, Vijay...how about getting a dog?" "Either a dog or me", comes the predictable answer, this time somehow making me relieved that I don't have to take a decision about which dog to get!

And I see my Golden Retriever run in slow motion, far away from me.